Brewers' rise keeps owner grounded
Long-awaited playoff berth a welcome diversion for financier
PHILADELPHIA -- The new short-cropped brown beard on the face of Brewers owner Mark Attanasio isn't coming off any time soon. Not as long as his club remains in the postseason.He began to grow it on Sept. 21, when the Brewers won in Cincinnati to end a skid that had stretched to nine losses in 10 games. But after six wins in their past seven games helped the Brewers capture the National League's Wild Card berth on Sunday in Milwaukee, the beard has become a fixture.
"I'm quite superstitious," Attanasio said as the Brewers worked out at Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday in preparation for their best-of-five NL Division Series against the Phillies, which will open in Philadelphia on Wednesday. "First of all, I'm Italian, and I think I've only become more superstitious since I've owned a baseball team."It has been a roller-coaster month for the Brewers, and thus for their owner, in more ways than one. Attanasio runs a Los Angeles-based firm that manages money for its clients, and while the Brewers have slumped and spurted, he's also kept a firm eye on the economy. On Sunday, when the Brewers finished off the Cubs while the Mets were losing to the Marlins to decide the NL Wild Card, Attanasio was ecstatic. He and his son danced on the Brewers' dugout and helped spray champagne on the celebrating players and surrounding fans. "It was great and completely spontaneous," Attanasio said. "No one plans on climbing on the dugout to spray champagne. My son and I just wanted to be a part of it." On Monday, the celebration continued at a rally on the shores of Lake Michigan off downtown Milwaukee. At the same time, the U.S. House of Representatives rejected an emergency economic recovery package, and the stock market dropped nearly 800 points. Attanasio, who attended the rally, said that he began to feel unsettled about celebrating his team's good fortune at the same time his clients' portfolios were under substantial risk. "You have to realize that sports are just a diversion," Attanasio said. "That's all it is." Even baseball wasn't much of a diversion until Sunday. The Brewers went into September with 80 wins and a 5 1/2-game lead in the NL Wild Card race. By the time it was over, they had changed managers, had fallen behind the Mets by 2 1/2 games and rallied to grab the Wild Card with their 90th win on the last day of the regular season. It wasn't supposed to be that way. "Every inning, every pitch was so intense -- I've never been through anything like that before," Attanasio said. "Baseball is a sport of streaks. The beauty of it is, no matter how hard we try to quantify it or understand it, it always surprises us and humbles us. It taxes the imagination. That's what made this so sweet. All I know is that our entire organization worked tirelessly right to the end." And for that commitment, Attanasio is flying 75 to 85 front-office personnel to the first two games in Philadelphia "because we want to do this the right way," he said. Attanasio was confirmed as the new owner of the franchise, having purchased it from the Selig family, about a month before Spring Training opened in 2005. While Milwaukee has waited 26 years for the Brewers to return to the postseason, it was less than four years into his stewardship that Attanasio experienced relative success. Attanasio said his goal is to keep the team competitive every year, but there's no doubt that he saw it all slipping away this season after the Brewers were swept by the Phillies in a four-game series at Philadelphia from Sept. 11-14. The next day, he and Doug Melvin, the team's general manager, made the decision to dismiss manager Ned Yost and promote former third-base coach Dale Sveum to manager. Attanasio called the decision necessary but the toughest of his short tenure as a baseball owner. "Doug and I talk every day, and throughout the month we explored and exhausted every option we could," Attanasio said. "It wasn't a reaction to, 'Boy, we just got swept. What happened there?' That just didn't happen. It wasn't the way it was reported. It was a very reasoned and collaborative decision. Doug made the final decision, but any final decision, I'm going to be involved with -- whether it's signing CC Sabathia or making a managerial change." Asked to explain the elements that went into the Yost dismissal, Attanasio said: "We were dead. We hadn't been playing well all month. We felt that we needed some kind of a change and felt on balance that that might give us the jolt that we needed. Honestly, it was as difficult a decision as I've ever had to participate in in my [baseball] career. "Ned Yost was a good manager. He really almost got us here. He's like a starting pitcher who went eight strong innings. We did go 6-1 the last week, but we also went 7-5 [under Sveum]. There's no way of knowing whether we would have gone 7-5 under Ned." That, of course, is all behind him now. Considering the midseason acquisitions of Sabathia and second baseman Ray Durham, the team's payroll is more than $90 million for the first time. In response, the attendance at Miller Park surpassed 3 million for the first time. Attanasio was intent on dispelling the perception that the organization made a concerted effort to win this season because a one-time window of opportunity was open. He believes that window is going to remain open. To that end, the club's finance committee has been told not to crunch the numbers for next year until this season's run is over. "This is not like we wanted to shoot the moon this year and next year we won't care," Attanasio said. "This year, we were on the precipice of doing something special and we did everything we could to take advantage of that. We intend to be on the precipice of doing something special next year, too."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.